I’m not one of those overly-concerned-about-cleanliness-types, but I’ll admit it– I HAD to wonder how clean it was to be sitting in the overflow of an Indian dam with hundreds of other people, sipping tea all the while.
My travel mates and I sat on hundred-meter wide steps, the cold overflow of Bhusi Dam splashing down upon us, sipping cup after cup. Everyone was packed onto the steps like sardines– young couples, families, groups of rowdy guys. Children shrieked in delight at the refreshingly cool water rushing past them, young men splashed each other and shouted, and everyone was smiling. The tea vendors stayed on the go, weaving their way through the crowds, stopping to pour hot chai into small plastic cups in exchange for a few rupees. Further down, below the steps, where the water was calmer and shallower, vendors sold fresh, hot corn– from stands set up smack in the middle of the stream. And, of course, there was a smattering of cows who couldn’t miss out on the action.
It was, without a doubt, one of the strangest places I’d been to in all my travels.
Maybe I should explain how I ended up in Bhusi Dam to begin with. A British friend of mine, Sarah (not the Sarah I refer to in the two Syrian posts) was working at a NGO in Mumbai. It was July. Now those of you who know India know that Mumbai+July=dripping hot weather. It can be unbearable. We’d sat a bar one night earlier that week, our faces beaded with sweat, Sarah blowing her bangs off her forehead, when she suggested we make like Mumbaikers and escape to the hill stations in Lonavla that weekend. She said that there were a few things to see in the area, including the Karla Caves, and that the weather is allegedly much cooler than Mumbai.
My reply: why not?
Not long after we checked into our hotel– which was damp inside and out thanks to the monsoon rains (our sheets were damp, our towels were damp, and there was a damp cow standing in the lobby. Yes, IN THE LOBBY)– and not long after a woman attending a wedding celebration in the hotel had shoved sugar into our mouths with, “This is a sweet day, no?” we met Ben, another Brit.
We’d hiked up a gently sloping mountain to go to Karla Caves and the adjacent temple, only to find a long, snaking line to enter the temple. We couldn’t quite figure out why, but there was a marching band roaming the vicinity. Between the throngs of people waiting to enter the temple and the festive music, we sort of felt like we were at a theme park.
Ben joined us as we stood– in India, foreigners tend to act as magnets for other foreigners– kickstarting a conversation with a very witty, very British line (I wish I could remember what he said). Turns out that, like Sarah, he was from London and they launched into that “who do you know? where did you study? where did you go?” game.
Long story short– by the time we’d waited out the lines, the brass band with its crashing cymbals, Sarah’d made a friend. Ben invited us to join him on his next stop… only he didn’t know exactly what it was.
“A dam?” he told us, with a bewildered shake of his head.
He explained that the company he worked for in Mumbai had paid for a car and driver for his weekend in the hill stations and that the driver was taking him around to the local spots… and that his driver had been raving about this dam all morning.
When we reached the bottom of the mountain, and the car, Ben asked the driver what was next on the itinerary.
“Bhusi Dam,” he replied.
“What’s that?” I asked.
The driver looked at me. “A dam, madam.”
But of course.
Ben shrugged and smiled. “I have no idea,” he said.
Still not sure why anyone would want to see a dam, weary of the fact that we were getting into the car with two total strangers, off I went… against my better judgment.
About ten minutes later– after the driver regaled us with tales about coming to Bhusi Dam with his family when he was a boy, managing to never actually tell us WHAT Bhusi Dam was– we pulled into a muddy parking lot. I didn’t see much but some trees, and a smattering of people following what looked like a path into some thinly scattered trees.
The driver turned to us, grinning. “Bhusi Dam,” he announced.
“Where?” we asked him.
“There,” he pointed to the small stream of people.
We looked at each other. “OK. Let’s go have a look. Shall we?” Ben said.
We got out of the car and followed the small crowd on the muddy path… which quickly gave way to a small stream. The people ahead of us kept walking, the men not bothering to roll up their pants, the women’s skirts and saris trailing in the water.
So we forged ahead, too. Past a defunct merry-go-round on the bank, past “name on rice” stands, past an empty red ferris wheel, past a sign that cautioned us swimming here could result in death. Past people who were frolicking, splashing, and sliding about in the water. Past cows, past corn vendors…
You know where this story ends.
Bhusi Dam– you sit in the surging overflow. That’s it. It’s simple. It’s strange. It’s delightful. It’s freeing. It’s India.
That was the strangest travel destination I have seen. What was yours?